• Books

    The Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean M. Auel

    I started this book so I could get rid of it. I bought the book years ago at a used book sale. The paperback is from around 1986. Its pages are all yellow and the spine had already started to come apart. I dug this up from my book stash after dinner at my parents’ home. I am glad I did as the book proved to be engaging.

    It moves along at a very steady pace with lots of details of prehistoric times. I liked most of the Clan characters. I even got use to Ayla being basically perfect by prehistoric and modern terms. I liked that with the exception of the villain Broud, the books characters seemed reasonable and human. Like Ayla, I began to love Iza and Creb. I thought those relationships were sweet and real. Ayla’s coming of age, learning, and her trials were decently written and even believable. The pacing is quite good. I read this book once on a weekday night then picked it up before bed on a weekend. I found it hard to put down and finished it in the middle of the night. I actually have not read a book late into the night for awhile. I really shouldn’t read novels like this before bed. It did give me that pleasure of reading a novel that makes you forget your problems and your world.

    There was a lot to like about this novel and I look forward to the next book. When it came to how I would rate it, I just couldn’t give it a full four stars. The writing had some deficiencies that I couldn’t ignore. For example, there was a lot of repetition. Ayla is constantly referenced as being “ugly” because she is “Other”/ Cro-Magnon. This is irony as we know Ayla’s blonde and blue-eyed looks are not ugly by modern terms. The author kept hammering that detail. The villain of this novel is a cartoonishly grotesque sociopath who is obsessed with hating Ayla. While there were small attempts to give him more depth, he was just too broadly drawn and lacking rationality in everything. I think it may have been an intentional choice by the author to make him that “backward” but it makes you wonder how the other Clan members could sustain it throughout the years.

    The novel had some moments where the omniscient narrator waxed a little too much about how intelligent Ayla is because of her “frontal lobe” and her birth as an Other. That was a bit too modern and superimposed. I did not mind the supernatural or ritualistic aspects, but the science interjections were incongruous to the story especially when it was basically tacked in after one of the character’s point of view.

    All in all, these were minor issues. I wouldn’t say this novel is essential reading, but there was a lot of research and effort. I liked the characters and the pacing and setting were relatively well done. I will read the next book, but I may not finish the series as I’ve read the series becomes more of a romance drama with even more anachronistic elements.

    Read October 15, 19 into the morning of the 20, 2019.

  • Books

    Miss Tonks Turns to Crime by Marion Chesney

    I think I am going to give up looking for an alternative to Georgette Heyer. Reading this book only made me want to reread Heyer.

    This is the second in a series and my library did not have the first. The books seem fairly stand alone and share a cast of central supporting characters.

    This book was ok. It wasn’t bad exactly, but it seemed just too frivolous and superificial. I didn’t really like most of the characters and there were too many schemes and comedic elements. Heyer has her faults, but she’s actually good at rounding her characters out quickly. Chesney has too many characters and most of them are jerks or idiots.

    I didn’t even care about the central romance in it as I didn’t really like how things kept happening to most of the women. I will say that the novel is short and some of the characters are not bad. As the book was written in the early 1990s, the language and interactions are a little more adult than Heyer’s writings which I appreciated.

    I’d give Chesney a try if you are into the comedic Heyer bent. Some Heyer fans will like it. It didn’t work for me.

    Read September 24-25, 2019.

  • Books

    Lucy Knisley graphic memoirs

    Relish

    A graphic novel and food memoirs growing up in NYC, Hudson Valley, and Chicago. It includes illustrated recipes and tips. I really enjoyed this little piece especially after I read Bullshit Jobs (which was more intense). I like the artist’s style and storytelling. I will be reading more from her.

    Read August 15, 2019

    After Relish, I realized that my library had a number of her graphic memoirs so I requested a few and read them during a busy work week time. I had taken a break from the nonfiction I was reading and needed some easy read.

  • Books,  Food

    Wild Fermentation by Sandor Katz

    I have been due to read a Sandor Katz book for awhile now. I am glad I was able to get the revised edition of this book.

    Fermentation has become a hobby of mine for the last few years. I’ve made sourdough, kombucha, milk kefir, water kefir, jun kombucha, sauerkraut, kimchi, and recently started facto-fermentation of pickles and garlic. On a regular basis, I make jun kombucha at least twice a week and sourdough almost weekly during the cooler months. I drink the kombucha almost daily and when I am not making sourdough regularly, I do buy it from my local bakery.

    A few years ago, I noticed that after a morning of drinking kefir, eating sauerkraut, and sourdough bread, my stomach felt great. Not heavy and things felt easy to digest. While I have never been diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder, IBS, digestion issues, etc. I have always had some digestive problems since I was a kid. My father has similar ones and is even more restricted by lactose intolerance. It’s not chronic nor is it persistent on a weekly or monthly basis, but I am the kind of person who gets digestion issues while travelling. At least a couple times of year, I get painful indigestion or food poisoning from eating something that did not agree with me. I guess the microbiome that Dad gave me is not the best. However, I generally eat pretty well and I find that fermented drinks and foods digest well. They do not give me problems.

    I liked Katz’s style and ethos about fermentation. He emphasizes that you should keep clean but not sterilized and unlike a lot of other food or beverage books, he does not give you a mandatory list of what you need to get started. I found the book really interesting. There were lots of things I wanted to try and it was very accessible. The book has recipes but there is an emphasis on process rather than strict guidelines. Even the process can be adjusted.

    The book has a lot of references and tips from lots of sources. I also really like the reflection about how microbes and bacteria and yeast are all around us. That this biodiversity in our food is important for sustainability in the long run.

    I would really like to do a proper full cookbook review where I evaluate some of the recipes, but I do not own this book in book form. I do have an ebook version and will experiment with some recipes.

    Read August 27-28, 2019.

  • Books,  Food

    Marcus at Home by Marcus Wareing

    Marcus Wareing is a Michelin starred London based chef. He is widely known on UK TV for judging “Masterchef: The Professionals”. I’ve been a fan of Wareing since watching him judge “Great British Menu”. Masterchef: The Pros is one of my absolute favourite TV programmes. Last year, I was lucky enough to dine at Marcus at the Berkeley. It was one of the best dining experiences. I hope to go back one day.

    I was gifted a copy of this book and another of book by Wareing. Of the two books, this one is looked more informal which is why I read it first.

    I started this as a bed time book last December and there many weeks (if not months) where I did not read it at all. I made a concerted effort to finish the last third which compromised of Entertaining (irrelevant for me) and Baking (more relevant but smaller section).

  • Books

    The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye by Sonny Liew

    This is a fictional graphic novel of an underrated artist from Singapore. The work charts the political history of Singapore from the second world war, through independence, and finally, its development as a first world city-state.

    I was privileged enough to spend a week in Singapore last month. I really enjoyed my time there for a plethora of reasons. I found it fascinating and enlivening. When I got back, I tried to find some books to learn more about the country.

    Since it is a graphic novel and faux memoirs, Sonny Liew uses various styles of comic art to convey history and time. It’s a very meta work. It also incorporates real people in Singapore’s leadership. I learned a lot about Singapore’s history and I’m sure most people would. The achievements of Lee Kuan Yew and PAP to create modern Singapore were not done without bloodshed. They removed and manipulated political opponents and the press. The book makes the reader reflect that while Singapore has changed rapidly in the last fifty years, there is a cost.

    I found the book a little sad. I enjoyed the historical aspect and the subversive themes in the book; however, there wasn’t any character that I felt truly invested in. I was not moved by the character of Charlie Chan Hock Chye for some reason.

    It’s an ambitious work and will be a classic of Singaporean literature.

    Read August 21-22, 2019.

  • Books

    I Owe You One by Sophie Kinsella

    I have been reading Kinsella’s novels off and on for at least 16 years. I did read one of her most recent novels targeted for young adults. It was OK. After I Owe You One, I think I’ll be more cautious about picking up Kinsella’s novels for a very long time. I think I’m growing too old for her style and probably chick lit in general. I was never into chick lit that much any way.

    This book had too many unlikeable, superficial characters. Most of them were described as painfully selfish, spoilt, or misogynistic. One of the characters is a narcissistic sociopath and conman. Kinsella has had some weird characters in her other books, but at least they were somewhat interesting or amusing.

    The protagonist is nice and a tiny bit relatable, but Fixie (what a stupid name) is very insecure and a doormat for almost the whole book. It was incredibly frustrating to read the first person narrative of a woman who is so blind to be stuck on man (aforementioned sociopath) since she was 11 years old.

    I thought the book would get easier because Kinsella usually sticks the landing. However, the beginning set up took too long and actually made me angry about how bloody entitled some of the characters were. I use to find some Kinsella’s characters eccentric, charming, or harmless. Most of those in this book are boring, asinine, or contemptible.

    The ending itself is unremarkable. It was hard for me to be invested in any of the characters. Characters do change by the end, but the developments felt undeserved. They were drawn out without much depth from the beginning. Even if they were not as bad as the narrator described, as the reader, I can only judge what the author presents. This is not literary fiction where I should be questioning the narrative accuracy nor should I when reading this type of book. It shouldn’t irk me so much either.

    In the past, I’ve found the London setting in these novels make me nostalgic especially when set around Christmas. There was not enough of London. I really couldn’t care anymore about the holiday details because I wanted to be finished with the novel.

    I gave this two stars on GoodReads which makes it equal to the last book. It’s probably closer to 1.5 stars. It was a waste of a couple of hours, but I did finish it.

    Two low rated books in a row make me a bit sad. Ahh well. Onwards to the next one.

    Read August 20, 2019.

  • Books

    The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle

    I bought two Eckhart Tolle books ten years ago in London. If these were library books, I would have given up on them.

    This book had too many repetitive messages and the tone is a tad condescending. I was able to finish this book for a couple of reasons.

    First, I started to read them in bed before sleeping. As mentioned in an earlier review, I have never been in the habit of reading in bed, but I wanted to start to fit more reading in my day. I would read about 15-30 mins before falling asleep. This was great before bed because it is boring and repetitive!

    I can see why they were popular and bestsellers. Tolle’s messages and lessons aren’t inherently bad for me personally. I have been meditating more again and I have been open to spiritual or “New Age” books and messages. There were some meditation tips buried in this book, but that could be gleaned from other works too.

    I thought the execution of this book didn’t work. Not only did he repeat things about being in the now, he kept using random teachings from other religions to reinforce this message. These interpretations are sometimes of dubious quality. Interpretation is interpretation except I didn’t see how he was better than other spiritual teachers. The book makes you think he is more enlightened than many others except I find it hard to believe sometimes based on how patronizing he can be.

    A lot of this book wouldn’t work for most people either so I am surprised these books sold so many couples. I think the messages in the book are explained better by other books or even by going to certain free meditation courses. The best would be to discuss some cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) with a trained counselor or therapist as Tolle’s methodology is similar. He is very vague though about the details.

    I will read my copy of The New Earth after this and I do not anticipate it being any better.

    Started in 2009, but picked up again August 4-18, 2019.

  • Books

    Bullshit Jobs by David Graeber

    The premise and theory behind this book is one that I have thought about and experience for most of my adult life. Even as a teenager frustrated with the education system, I began to realize that most jobs in the world are are bullshit.

  • Books

    Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami

    It’s taken me years to read this novel and it’s actually high demand at my library. I have a habit of taking out books several times before actually reading them. I could never renew this one beyond the three weeks because it was always on hold for someone else. I’ve probably taken it out at least a dozen times before finally reading it this week.

    This is a very nice novel. When I first started, I had read this would be one of Murakami’s “simpler” and less weird works. After Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, I was looking forward to reading more of him. That novel had very little plot and only a couple of characters of note. It was also very surreal yet memorable in its imagery.

    This one is more of a typical novel but it’s full of nice writing:

    “With my eyes closed, I would touch a familiar book a nd draw its fragrance deep inside me.”

    Not flowery pose, but lovely stuff none the less.

    There are a lot of characters and personalities. It’s very slice of life. At times, this book felt like a collection of short stories. However, that mirrors life as well.

    Here are some more funny lines from the novel that I enjoyed:

    “Whenever I put on hard work, hippies and run-away kids would gather outside to dance and sniff paint thinner or just sir on the ground doing nothing in particular, and when I put on Tony Bennett, they would disappear.”

    “The coffee I had with it tasted like boiled printer’s ink.”

    I really like you, Midori. A lot.”
    “How much is a lot?”
    “Like a spring bear,” I said.
    “A spring bear?” Midori looked up again. “What’s that all about? A spring bear.”
    “You’re walking through a field all by yourself one day in spring, and this sweet little bear cub with velvet fur and shiny little eyes comes walking along. And he says to you, “Hi, there, little lady. Want to tumble with me?’ So you and the bear cub spend the whole day in each other’s arms, tumbling down this clover-covered hill. Nice, huh?”
    “Yeah. Really nice.”
    “That’s how much I like you.”

    “How much do you love me?”
    “Enough to melt all the tigers in the world to butter,” I said.

    There are some very funny and genuinely sweet things in this book.

    Speaking of being in love with two people:

    “Things like that happen all the time in the great big world of ours. It’s like taking a boat out on a beautiful lake on a beautiful day and thinking both the sky and the lake are beautiful.”

    This book has a lot more characters and it’s a lot more slice of life and book about growing up. A bit similar to Maugham’s Of Human Bondage in that way.

    When I compare to this to Wind Up Bird Chronicle, I’m sort of in awe of Murakami’s range as a writer. He does have a probing and sometimes odd style, but these books show he can do a lot. Not many fiction writers have a range as wide as this. It makes me want to read more from him.

    A very good read. I’ll likely try Kafka on the Shore next but I am not sure when.

    Read August 6-9, 2019.

  • Books

    Voracious by Cara Nicoletti

    I am in a bit of a reading rut lately. I do find that reading about books and reading in general helps me ease back into reading more regularly. I have had this on my To Be Read list for awhile. It’s a lovely memoirs where each chapter is about a memory in the author’s life, a book, and a recipe to go along with it.

    Since the author and I are almost exactly the same age, I have read most of the books in her childhood and adolescence chapters. I also liked the mix of recipes included which had lots of baking and savoury dishes too. As with all North American cookbooks, I wish there were actual metric weight ingredients.

    This book in hardcover is lovely. Very think and bright paper. There are also some beautiful watercolour illustrations by a friend of Nicoletti’s. I really enjoyed reading it.

    In an effort to read more and have good night time routine, I’ve taken to read more in the evenings. In the past and growing up, I have always read most of my fiction and lighter non fiction in less than 3 sittings. In recent years, I have struggled with this way of reading books because life has changed. As much as I prefer to read for days on end in the summer, I cannot. So I read this book in the evenings after dinner and before bed. I like incorporating reading in my pre-bed time routine, but it’s different. I am still trying to get use to it. I’ll see how it goes moving forward but I need to find ways to read more as my life changes.

    Read July 28-Aug 1, 2019.

  • Books

    Slightly Foxed Issue 37: Dreaming of the Bosphorus

    This is actually a literary magazine. It was a gift from a friend who said that I would enjoy it. I am not sure where she got it (maybe her own mother) since my friend is not as interested in literature like me.

    This was definitely up my alley. The magazine is focused on books from the past, forgotten authors, or topics adjacent to book lover’s life. Most of the books covered in each quarterly is no longer being published or in active print. I really enjoyed the various articles. The magazine is easy to read as each article is about 4 pages.

    This magazine and my recent trip has inspired me to go back to reading. I am very behind on my reading challenge this year and have not been reading as much. Other things have gotten in the way, but I am reminded that it is all about commitment.

    Since I moved into to my current home over 1.5 year ago, I’ve found it difficult to carve time here for reading. This happened at my previous apartment as well, but I love my current home more to the point where I do other things but read. I will commit to booking time for reading for the rest of the summer.

    A really good magazine. I am not in the position to subscribe, but I will check out their podcast and hope to find another opportunity to read the magazine again.

    Started June 24, 2019. Finished July 21, 2019. I read it mostly in these two days.

    For more information about Slightly Foxed, please visit their website here.